Benji's Story: How a 15-Year-Old Conservative Was Bullied by A Teacher
Note: this is the essay that originally appeared on the Freedom Works website:
As a 15 year old, I never imagined my activism in politics would translate into controversy for me at school.
My name is Benji Backer and I attend a public high school in Appleton, Wisconsin. I have always supported the public school system and plan to do so for the rest of my life. Many Americans who stand up for the public school system and the unions believe there is no attempt to sway opinion or that students with opposing beliefs are singled out. Unfortunately, experiences I have had with harassment and bullying prove that wrong. This is a timeline of the most extreme cases of harassment and indoctrination I have had in the three different public schools I have attended over the last three years.
I am currently in my freshman year of high school and the incidents are happening more frequently and I believe are more severe. As you can imagine, the ongoing pressure and bullying has been disturbing to me, my friends and my family.
Just before the 2010 Midterm election, I was on the front page of the local newspaper for my political volunteer work and my teachers noticed. One of my seven teachers made it very clear that she dissaproved of my civic engagement. In a period of two months, my Geography teacher frequently would take me aside after school for a few minutes and tell me how stupid, wrong and misguided I was for being Republican. The harassment with this specific teacher got so bad, I had to switch schools halfway through the year. At this time I was only 12 years old. To my knowledge, this teacher was not disciplined at all for her actions.
Two months after I switched to my new school, Scott Walker passed the controversial Budget Repair Bill. Most of the teachers at my new school were more than upset. A couple of my teachers wore red every day while crying, protesting and providing a one-sided perspective on the reforms and making it clear to us just how bad they believed Scott Walker was. One teacher even said she wouldn’t be able to have another child because Scott Walker was cutting so much money from her pay.
A few months later, I expected things to die down and be over with; it didn’t. Almost four months after Walker’s budget was passed, I walked into choir to find a substitute teacher showing us a 5 minute video about how great unions were and then she talked for an additional 10 minutes about how bad she believed Scott Walker to be. At the end of the class, I stood up, defended the governor and told her how inappropriate her behavior was. I was told she didn’t do that to another class for the rest of the day.
During my 8th grade year I received more attention for my political activity. I had become known in the community because of newspaper, radio and TV interviews and was aware that this would possibly make me a target. Not only was I a volunteer for Governor Walker, but I was a very vocal supporter of him as well. While there were some minor instances of teachers complaining about Walker and a few mentions of my media appearances and such, the rhetoric seemed to be dying down.
It was a short-lived reprieve. Things have deteriorated again this year, my freshman year. I came into the year with the knowledge that some teachers would already view me negatively because of my political views and I was correct.
Right after Scott Walker won the recall election, I started helping out candidates for November. I was named Young Americans for Mitt Romney Co-Chair in Wisconsin and once again, my teachers took notice; my English teacher in particular. In one of the first weeks of school, he had us write about an article we had read for homework. The article was about political campaigns “mining” into the personal lives of the American people. He asked, “other than Facebook and phone calls, how do campaigns mine into personal lives?” I raised my hand and replied: “well, you can check who signed the recall.” Immediately after, he said “I signed that!” That was the trigger to the last 40 minutes of class. He spent the remainder of that period lecturing us about how much he hated Scott Walker and explained all the reasons why. He said, “most small business owners and workers take off Fridays and summers”. According to him, small business owners go golfing every Friday. He also said many businessmen work fewer hours than teachers. He explained how his pay was too low to support his family. He told the class his pay was so bad he had to paint houses in the summers. During this discussion, he was swearing and saying how wrong it was for anyone to support Walker. Students were telling him to stop, and he wouldn’t.
I decided I would not argue with him. Past experiences had shown me that arguing with someone like him would only make things worse and inflame the situation. Since no one was debating him, these students were being presented a very biased view and placed in a very uncomfortable situation. By the end of class, some students had a completely negative view of Scott Walker.
A couple of days later, he took me into the hall and apologized. He said he had felt bad about it all weekend. He then gave me a book to read about Abraham Lincoln. He told me that “good politicians read a lot.” Then he said, “I don’t think Scott Walker likes to read.” The indoctrination and conversations with the class dropped off for a while after this incident, but in mid-October, it started up again. On a regular basis, he would talk about politics in front of the class or in private with me.
The harassment got particularly bad one day in late October, about a week after I was featured in USA Today for my involvement in the upcoming November election. Again, this video and article was sent throughout the school and was even played in several classes. The same English teacher who had lectured to almost 30 students about a month earlier took me aside during class again. He started talking about Mitt Romney and Scott Walker and his views on them. He reiterated how much harder he worked compared to my dad, a small business owner, which he had no knowledge of. He went on to ask how much my parents made because he wanted to compare it to his salary.
Later, I looked up this teacher’s salary. He had been making over $100,000 with benefits for the 2010-11 school year, the same year Walker's reform bill passed. For a few more days, he talked to me in class about his feelings about Walker and Romney. I decided to tell my parents about the two incidents. My parents thought it was very inappropriate and decided we needed to talk to the principal about it. The principal at my school was very upset with the situation. He was disappointed in my English teacher and he told me I needed to talk to my teacher one on one. After I talked to the teacher, my principal said he would meet up with him to follow up. When I went during my lunch hour to talk to my teacher, he apologized and took ownership for everything. Later during the apology, he started to talk about Walker again and how much he hated him. He just couldn’t stop. At the end of the conversation, my teacher asked “you know how you went down to the principal’s office?” I said yes, and he said “I don’t give a sh*t.” I asked why, and he went on to explain that he was friends with the principal so it didn’t matter to him and he wouldn’t get in trouble because of their friendship.
My principal called me into his office the day after to see how it went. I told him what my teacher did and said. He then told me if there were any more incidents with this teacher there would be serious consequences. He also told me if there were any more incidents like this with other teachers, I was to report it right away. I felt as if it was being properly addressed and had hoped I had seen the end of it. Unfortunately, the relationship between the teacher and I turned out to be worse than before. Since I reported these incidents, he has stopped talking about politics in the classroom, but sadly, he has not treated me the same as he did before I reported him.
In my Health class, also this year, our very first homework assignment included writing down four activities you do as a person currently and four things you want to do in the future. We were also assigned to present in front of the class. In one of my four boxes, I wrote down that I was a conservative speaker. When I presented in front of the class, he asked if I supported the Tea Party. I said yes. He rolled his eyes and told me believing in the organization was “weird." He also told me he knew nothing about the Tea Party. This teacher then told me to explain, in front of the class why I supported the Tea Party, so I did. When I left the class, I thought about what had happened. Why was I being called “weird?” Why was I being questioned so much? The simple truth reveals that some teachers want to obstruct and block my personal views from looking valid. If a teacher asked why someone was homosexual, Atheist or Muslim and called what they believed “weird”, there would be serious consequences. I decided not to report this to the principal because I realized it wouldn’t help. I had experienced the fallout from reporting prior instances and I didn't want a repeat situation.
The latest incident involved another substitute teacher in my civics (government) class. Every day we watch a ten minute show called CNN Student News. The substitute asked us to recap the show and discuss it in class. The first part of the show had to do with gun control. Instead of having us discuss the topics as she said she would, she decided to share her views. She talked almost twenty minutes. In those twenty minutes, she said the recently released picture of Obama shooting a gun was forced out by the conservative and far-right members. She explained how she believed Obama’s birth certificate was forced out, therefore this was too. For about five minutes, she called all Republicans racist. According to her, she had never seen such discrimination against a president and President Obama has been the most ill-treated president in the history of the United States, all because the Republicans don't want a black man in the White House.
I believe that the majority of my teachers (and teachers in general) are professional and leave their personal political views out of the classroom. There are a few teachers that have been extremely inspirational to me. Unfortunately, most is not enough. Teachers that do bring a one-sided view of politics into the classroom are attempting to influence students’ opinions. They want to teach us what to think instead of how to think.
The intimidation has not swayed me or made me cower from my beliefs, but I worry about the other students. I'm certain I am not the only one that has experienced this sort of intimidation. My teachers have always talked about bullying, including bullying homosexuals and how wrong it is. I agree one hundred percent. They shouldn’t be bullied, nor should anyone else. But if homosexuals can get equal treatment, why can’t I? Why can’t my conservative friends? If teachers want bullying to end with homosexuals, other races or religious beliefs, they should want it to end with every type of bullying possible, including political views.
One-sided political conversations are happening in the classroom with impressionable students at a young age. This has gone on for decades. The problem is, not enough students speak up and speak out about it. The more educated I become, the more I realize the indoctrination that happens is very subtle and may not be noticeable to most students. Slowly but surely, these views seep inside a student’s head. Only a year and a half ago did I realize our country was a Republic, not a Democracy. Why is that? I had been taught otherwise for years prior.
Teachers presenting a one-sided political view are a problem and they need to be stopped. A school should be a place students can comfortably and safely express their beliefs, learn, grow and form their own opinions. If we want an educated Republic, we need to educate our students in a fair and balanced way.